New details that led to the University of Michigan's decision to agree to the Big Ten Conference's three-game suspension of head coach Jim Harbaugh, as well as the termination of his assistant coach, have been revealed.
Michigan officials reportedly believed they had a deal in place to limit Harbaugh's suspension from three games to two -- allowing him to return for the team's November 24 game against undefeated arch rival Ohio State -- before learning about new information linked to the ongoing investigation into the program, Sports Illustrated's Richard Johnson and Michael Rosenberg reported on Friday (November 17). The information reportedly didn't directly implicate Harbaugh -- with the Big Ten reiterating that it had no evidence of the coach being aware of former staffer Connor Stalion's sign-stealing scheme -- but it did lead to the firing of Michigan linebackers coach Chris Partridge on Friday.
It's worth noting that Partridge -- who returned to Michigan in February -- is a longtime friend of Stalions. The university announced Cartridge's firing hours after confirming it had accepted the Big Ten Conference's suspension of Harbaugh on Thursday (November 16).
"Effective today, Chris Partridge has been relieved of his duties as a member of the Michigan Football staff," team spokesman Dave Ablauf confirmed in a statement obtained by the Detroit Free Press. "Rick Minter will serve as the team’s linebackers coach."
Harbaugh, 59, agreed to the Big Ten Conference's three-game suspension, rather than participate in a hearing in Washtenaw County Court scheduled for Friday, the school announced in a statement. The coach missed the first of three games during last Saturday's (November 11) win against Penn State and will be away from the team during its final two regular-season games against Maryland next Saturday (November 18) and arch rival Ohio State on November 25.
"This morning, the University, Coach Harbaugh, and the Big Ten resolved their pending litigation," UM said in a statement obtained by ESPN. "The Conference agreed to close its investigation, and the University and Coach Harbaugh agreed to accept the three-game suspension. Coach Harbaugh, with the University's support, decided to accept this sanction to return the focus to our student-athletes and their performance on the field. The Conference has confirmed that it is not aware of any information suggesting Coach Harbaugh's involvement in the allegations. The University continues to cooperate fully with the NCAA's investigation."
Harbaugh was suspended from Michigan's sideline until the conclusion of the 2023 college football regular-season in relation to an ongoing investigation into sign-stealing allegations last week. The NCAA launched its investigation into the Michigan football program over alleged sign-stealing in October. The Wolverines are reportedly accused of violating NCAA Bylaw 11.6.1, which prohibits “Off-campus, in-person scouting of future opponents (in the same season)." Big Ten Conference officials said they were notified about the NCAA's investigation into the Michigan football program, a spokesperson confirmed to Yahoo Sports at the time.
The NCAA is reportedly looking into whether the Wolverines used former low-level staffer Connor Stalions to attend games of scheduled opponents and potential College Football Playoff opponents, to gather information used for both offensive and defensive plays. Stalions was suspended by the NCAA and Big Ten Conference amid reports of the investigation and resigned two weeks later, though denied that Harbugh nor any other coaching staffer told anyone to knowingly break any rules.
In August, the University of Michigan issued a self-imposed three-game suspension for Harbaugh in relation prior reported NCAA violations.
Harbaugh was issued a level one violation, which is considered to be "severe breach of conduct," for allegedly misleading investigators during a probe into accusations that he had improper contact with a recruit, which escalated his actions from a level 2 violation, which is deemed a "significant breach of conduct," according to NCAA guidelines. The University of Michigan and the NCAA were previously working on a four-game suspension which were reportedly rejected by the committee on infractions.
Harbaugh was accused of buying a recruit a burger during the COVID-related dead period, which has led to a debate on the severity of the punishment.
“The Michigan infractions case is related to impermissible on and off-campus recruiting during the COVID-19 dead period and impermissible coaching activities — not a cheeseburger,” said Derrick Crawford, the NCAA vice president of hearing operations, via On3.com. “It is not uncommon for the COI to seek clarification on key facts prior to accepting.
“The COI may also reject a [negotiated resolution] if it determines that the agreement is not in the best interests of the Association or the penalties are not reasonable. If the involved parties cannot resolve a case through the negotiated resolution process, it may proceed to a hearing, but the committee believes cooperation is the best avenue to quickly resolve issues.”
Harbaugh missed the first three games of Michigan's season, which included wins ECU, UNLV and Bowling Green. The Wolverines are currently in their best stretch since Harbaugh -- a former Michigan quarterback -- took over as the head coach of his alma mater in 2015. Harbaugh had publicly announced his intention to stay with the Wolverines in January amid reported potential interest from NFL teams prior to the initial report of his violations.